Silent Night

Silent Night

A Story by Jackson Roberts

A broken marshal and his deputy find each other on Christmas Eve.


“Silent night…” A voice, deeper than a canyon and thicker than molasses with soul drifted out of the old wooden radio by the window.

“Holy night…” Accompanied with a lonesome guitar, a brush on a drum, and full helping of sorrow, the haunting tune mixed with the air in the room darker than the night outside. Marshal Bateson slouched against the back wall of the empty holding cell, caressing his half-empty bottle, staring out over the iron bars and wondering if he should just shut the door on himself. The marshal’s cement gray mustache and unironed face proved he’d seen it all, and all of it wore him out. He’d been the avatar of the law in this little cow town for just about as long as he’d been alive, give or take eighteen years.

“All is calm, all is bright…” All sure was calm but nothing was bright. The marshal took a sip from the bottle, warmth the easy way, no need to cut wood or, god forbid, be close to another human. For a moment there was brightness, slipping through the lawman’s throat and past his heart, but gone once the drink settled in his gut. The lights of town shone dimly through the window across the room, the only Christmas decoration to grace the entire building for the fifth year running.

“Round yon virgin mother and child…” There was a time that marshal Bateson would be filled with the Christmas spirit, overcome by the scent of pine and nutmeg flirting with his nostrils, bouncing his son on his knee with a smirk and watching his wife dance around the kitchen. She was always dancing. But he didn’t feel it anymore, he hadn’t for a long time.

“Holy infant so tender and mild…” No, tonight he wasn’t to be with anyone. He caught his mind disturbing his peace and had to toss it in a cell for the night. The rest of his body had to go too, it was aiding and abetting a lawbreaker and he couldn’t have that go unpunished. He didn’t expect the violators to make bail, none of them even bothered to make a phone call.

“Sleep in heavenly peace…” He wished he could. “Sleep in heavenly peace…” Lord, he sure wished he could.

“Silent night, holy night, all is dark…” Damn straight. The marshal took another pull from the bottle, then hung it by its neck, a job he knew all too well. “Save the light…”

Hard leather boot soles beat on the wooden plank walkway outside. They grew louder with each step. It was one person making the noise, and not too heavy of a fellow either. Bateson slipped his fingers around the handle of his six-shooter and lifted it level with the knob on the door across the room. The handle turned and the door is nudged open. The marshal dropped his gun with a thud and a sigh of relief. Deputy Olson, tall, young, and handsome stood in the doorway. Startled by the thud, he peered through the darkness into the cell with his hand on his own weapon. A Beretta with a clip of 10 rounds, Olson embraced the changes that time brings, Bateson fought them at all costs.

“Marshal Bateson?” the young deputy said, recognizing his boss through the darkness, “you scared me near to death.” He took his hand off his weapon and slid it back down to his belt.

“I could say the same about you,” the marshal responded, his voice as deep and rich as the one expanding from the radio.

“Well Jesus, Marshal, what are you doing sitting in a cell in the dark?” Olson asked.

“Belonging,” Bateson took another sip and put his revolver back to bed. Olson’s footsteps beat like a resting heart towards the chain hanging from the light bulb in the center of the room. “Leave it,” the marshal begged. Olson released his grip on the beaded string.

“Yes sir,” he agreed. Gingerly, he began to walk towards the marshal’s voice. He stood in the cell door, looking down on the marshal, his eyes caught the bottle in his hands. Again. “You know, uh marshal, there’s a whole bunch of folks celebratin’ downtown. You don’t have to be sitting in here all alone.” Olson mentioned, trying to breathe some hope of life into his boss, sitting as still as the dead.

“Yes I do,” Bateson said with the confidence of a doctor answering a first grade math problem. It was almost Olson’s third year working for marshal Bateson, he’d seen this before. Something about about Christmas always knocked the senior lawman to the ground like a lightning strike, eventually snapping out of his stupor around New Years Day. Olson knew the story. Bateson came home one Christmas Eve to an house minus a wife and son who would never return. Olson didn’t know how he would act if it were him, but it wasn’t this way.

Olson inched closer to the marshal as if he were a rattlesnake coiled and ready to spring. He pressed his back into the chipped wood of the cell’s wall and slid down it hesitantly. He managed to lower himself onto the floor without any reaction from Bateson. Bateson tore the bottle from his skin with great difficulty and swung it out towards Olson in an offering. Olson was on duty, and so was Bateson for that matter, but he wouldn’t dare criticize the marshal in his current state. He shook his head once or twice to decline.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve deserved to be around people that happy,” Bateson admitted, retracting his offer and taking another pull. Olson disagreed, he knew that everybody deserved to be happy, at least on Christmas Eve, but again gave no voice to his thoughts. “Tell me, son, are you still seeing that sweet little Cindy?”

“Yes sir,” Olson nodded, “I gave her my ring about a week ago.” The thought of her nodding yes with a tear in her eye still warmed him down to the fingertips whenever he thought of it. She was waiting for him at home. They just bought a small house on the edge of town, big enough for three or four if they were up to the task, and come their wedding in March, they would be.

“That’s great,” the marshal’s voice found a hint of sympathy. “She’s a good girl, she’ll be a good wife.”

“I know it,” Olson smiled, hoping the darkness kept the marshal from seeing it, he didn’t want to be banished for being happy and have to leave Bateson alone with himself.

“It takes a special kind of man to raise a family and uphold the law,” Bateson remarked. “Lord knows I wasn’t one of ‘em.” He pondered what his words must have meant to the newly engaged deputy. “But you’re a better man than me,” he mended, “a much better man.”

“Don’t say that,” Olson begged.

“Why not, it’s true ain’t it?” Bateson snapped.

“It ain’t,” Olson offered. There was no good way to argue over the point that would end in anything but frustration. There was a silence between the two men, interrupted only by the sloshing of the whiskey in the marshal’s bottle and the tunes cascading from the radio. Bateson’s eyes began to droop and his body did the same.

“Marshal?” Olson asked for his attention.

“Mmm?” Bateson muttered.

“Why did you draw your weapon when I walked in?” The young deputy wondered.

“It weren’t personal,” the marshal slurred, “it weren’t meant for you.”

“Who was it meant for?” Olson persisted. The marshal’s nose was in his chest now.

The lawman pondered for a moment

“I’m not worried my family ain’t coming back, Oslon,” the marshal was all but unconscious. “I’m worried that they are.” With that the marshal slipped into unconsciousness.

“Sleep in heavenly peace…” Olson didn’t budge from his spot on the floor. Cindy would be alright without him for the moment. She had company, the neighbors were over for a party. The marshal, on the other hand, had nobody, and nobody deserved to be alone on Christmas Eve. The deputy grabbed the blanket from the holding cell’s bed and wrapped it around Bateson, hoping that the unconscious marshal could feel his presence somehow. That he knew he wasn’t alone.

“Sleep in heavenly peace…” 

© 2014 Jackson Roberts

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Added on December 21, 2014
Last Updated on December 21, 2014
Tags: Silent, Night, Christmas, Marshal, Deputy


Jackson Roberts
Jackson Roberts


I write to experience things that I couldn't any other way. more..